Research during the past few decades has shown us some fascinating things about the way we think and know. It used to be believed that intelligence could be measured on a single dimension. The assumption was that everyone had a certain amount of this one ‘thing’ called intelligence. But work by Howard Gardner and other researchers has changed all that. Gardner conceived of several different intelligences. According to this theory, there are several different ways of thinking and knowing; Gardner called them multiple intelligences. We each have some of each of the intelligences, but in each of us, at least one (and usually more than one) is particularly strong. Hold on – I’ll get to crime fiction in just a second.
Gardner’s ideas about multiple intelligences make a lot of intuitive sense if you think about it. Some people are naturally good at, say, art, music, athletics or languages. And research has supported his theory fairly consistently. We can even see these multiple intelligences woven all through crime fiction. If you look at the way various sleuths go about solving cases, you can see how different ways of thinking and knowing come through in the genre.
For instance, one of Gardner’s multiple intelligences is what he called logical-mathematical intelligence. People with a high degree of this kind of intelligence find it easy to recognise patterns and algorithms. They find numbers and codes and puzzles interesting and their skill is in deduction. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is like that. As Holmes fans know, he looks for patterns and focuses on deduction and logic.
There’s also what Gardner called visual-spatial intelligence. People with visual-spatial intelligence tend to be talented at art. They notice colour and design and respond to what they see. In a very obvious way we see that kind of intelligence in Ngaio Marsh’s Agatha Troy. She’s an artist who responds to what she sees and can create in several different media. For instance in both Final Curtain and Tied Up in Tinsel (and other novels too), Troy is commissioned to paint portraits. So she’s on the scene when murder happens at the homes where she’s staying. Although it’s technically her husband Roderick Alleyn who officially solves the cases, Troy’s skilled eyes are very helpful in finding clues. We see that especially in A Clutch of Constables in which she goes up against an international art forger known only as Jampot. Hercule Poirot also has this kind of intelligence. He’s quite observant about his visual surroundings and of course, fans know how important the appearance of his clothes and moustaches are to him.
Some people have a great deal of linguistic intelligence. Novelists, poets, journalists and other writers often fall into this category. If you love words, play a lot of word games and notice the way people use language, you’ve got a solid dose of this kind of intelligence. For instance, John Dickson Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell is a lexicographer. Words and languages are his specialty. That’s how he finds out the truth in, for instance, Hag’s Nook, where a cryptic poem turns out to be key to a murder. Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse has a dose of this kind of intelligence too. He does after all solve crossword puzzles with a pen and is a stickler for certain kinds of language use.
People with a lot of kinesthetic intelligence have a solid sense of where their bodies are in space. Actors, athletes, dancers, and people who can parallel park on the first try show this kind of intelligence. People with kinesthetic intelligence like to learn by doing and using their hands and bodies. For example, Helene Tursten’s DI Irene Huss has a share of kinesthetic intelligence. She is a former judo champion who uses the principles of judo to keep herself in shape as well as to clear her mind and cope with the stresses of her life as a cop. And interestingly, we several instances in this series where Huss gets bored and tired of paperwork and the other ‘desk routines’ that are part of a cop’s life. Although she’s hardly rash, Huss prefers to be out doing things to sitting at her desk. She also enjoys going for runs and exercising the family dog. All of those are hallmarks of kinesthetic intelligence and it serves Huss well.
Gardner also proposed interpersonal intelligence. People with interpersonal intelligence are skilled at interacting with others. I don’t mean that they are necessarily manipulators; rather, they work well with all kinds of people. And that is a critical skill for a sleuth. So, most fictional sleuths have at least some degree of it. G.K. Chesterton’s Father Paul Brown for instance is highly skilled at communicating with others, at forming bonds with them and understanding their perspectives. That’s how he learns as much as he does from suspects and witnesses. Karin Fossum’s Oslo police inspector Konrad Sejer is like that too. When he’s investigating a crime, one of his talents is the ability to see things from a variety of other perspectives and ‘get in people’s heads’ to understand why and how they do what they do. People tend to become comfortable talking with him and he often finds himself better able to get information through his interactions than he would through simply reading police reports.
There are also people with a lot of what Gardner called intrapersonal intelligence. Reflective people, people who keep journals and those who are really aware of themselves show this kind of intelligence. And being aware of one’s own reactions – one’s sense of self – can be very useful for a sleuth. For example, James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux has a keen self-awareness. That self-knowledge and reflection have helped him cope with some of the traumas he’s had to face, especially his Vietnam-era experiences. For instance in A Morning For Flamingoes, Robicheaux agrees to go undercover as a ‘dirty’ cop to try to trap New Orleans crime boss Tony Cardo. Part of his assignment is to get close to Cardo but that proves increasingly difficult for Robicheaux as he becomes aware that he has sympathy for his target. Throughout this novel, Robicheaux keeps himself as grounded as he can by ‘checking in with himself.’
Another of the multiple intelligences people have is musical intelligence. Obviously singers, composers and musical artists have a healthy dose of this kind of intelligence. But it’s more than just being able to sing or play music on key. It’s also a sense of rhythm and a keen awareness of sound. If you like a soundtrack when you work, or if you find yourself singing or whistling when you weren’t aware of it, or if you can’t help walking in time to the music when you walk past a car with its radio on, you know what I mean. And if you don’t, just ask Jill Edmondson’s Toronto PI Sasha Jackson, who used to be a rock singer and still does occasional gigs. Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus has musical intelligence as well although he’s hardly a famous rocker. His music collection matters a lot to him and there are lots of scenes in the Rebus novels (including a really well-done scene in Exit Music) in which he gets or listens to music.
Naturalist intelligence is actually pretty self-explanatory. People who are attuned to nature and its rhythms and who just ‘fit in’ in natural environments have a lot of naturalist intelligence. Garden enthusiasts, park rangers, those who are comfortable with animals and those who simply like to be outdoors are examples of those with naturalist intelligence. There’s a lot of it in crime fiction too. Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee, Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest, and Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon are all examples of people who learn from and use nature as they solve crimes. So does Arthur Upfield’s Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte. These sleuths can tell much from weather patterns, animal activity, ground marks and other natural phenomena. In fact, they often find clues where others can’t.
Finally there’s what Gardner called existential intelligence, the most recent of his proposals. The big questions – the ‘why’ questions – appeal to people with a lot of existential intelligence. Philosophers and members of the clergy often wrestle with these larger questions. And sometimes getting philosophical can be helpful to a sleuth. It is to Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie, who is the editor of Review of Applied Ethics. She doesn’t go out looking for physical clues, and she doesn’t search for patterns. Rather, she looks at the larger motivations people have, and considers the larger issues of morality.
You may be thinking, ‘But don’t all these sleuths also have other intelligences?’ They do indeed. That’s the thing about multiple intelligences. We’ve all got all of the intelligences to some degree. And what’s most interesting is that we can develop the ones we choose to develop.
Interested in taking a look at your own intelligences? Try this Multiple Intelligences Survey. It’s got 40 questions and took me about 10 minutes or so to complete. By no means is it definite – it’s just one look at the way we learn and know. If you’re a writer, what intelligences does your protagonist have?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Undertones’ Smarter Than You.